Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thoughts on Music from a Non-Music Teacher

Well, we're almost a week into the new school year.  How is everyone feeling?  I'm doing pretty well, other than the fact that my body is still in, "What?  I need a regular sleep schedule and I need to get up at 5 a.m.?  SERIOUSLY?" mode.  But I can't complain.

This is my seventh year teaching, which means I'm starting to get pretty expensive, so I better be worth it to my principal which means I have opportunities to be more deeply reflective about my craft.  (Yes.  That sounds better.)  But, for what it's worth, I did have a pretty reflective summer, and I've formulated a theory about teaching that I thought might be worth sharing with all of you.  And it revolves around music, which is always fun to think and write about, at least for me.  I've been playing music in my classroom every day, and it seems to help my mood and focus as much as it helps the kids'.

I think when you're first starting to teach, it's like first starting to play an instrument.  There are so many moving parts--the parts of the instrument, reading the music, posture, breathing, dynamics--that you can barely keep them all straight.  Focusing on one area at a time often means everything else falls apart.  Trying to be good at everything at once means that everything is mediocre or worse.  And you just soldier through that first year or two, and if, every so often, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" comes out recognizably, you call that a good day.

Then, after those first (say) two years, you're in a beginning ensemble.  You can more or less do everything at once.  Maybe none of it is great yet, but you won't bring down your fellow musicians in the rest of the ensemble, either.  Sometimes you can look away from the music and work on your posture, your breathing, those little things that make a decent piece of music sound lovely. You can lean on them and learn from them, and maybe once in a great while you'll get a tiny little solo.

Years five and six, then, are like playing in a pretty good classical ensemble.  Maybe you can show off a little now, take a fancier solo or two.  But your eyes might be glued to the music even more than they used to be, because the music is getting really complicated.  You want to play pieces you've never played before, and you can play them, but it's still tough.  It takes a lot of practice and preparation.

Then, at some point, you're playing jazz.  You have years and years of practice and preparation.  You know hundreds of scores by heart and from memory.  You can play a piece perfectly but go off on a gorgeous riff on a moment's notice, and keep it going as long as you want or need to.

I don't think I'm a jazz musician yet, and I think I'm surrounded by a lot of very disciplined classical musicians.  I think that's okay.  But I sure would like to be a jazz musician eventually--or, more aptly, a jazz teacher.
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